Concept: A Heavy Metal Band Whose Songs Are Kipling Poems

You know, if we had a heavy metal version of “The Hymn of Breaking Strain”, I would totally put it on my iPod for workout music. As such, we only have Leslie Fish and Julia Ecklar singing the filk version:

My goodness, how awesome would many of Kipling’s works be in heavy metal form. Just think of “If” or “The Gods of Copybook Headings” really loud. Frankly, I’m surprised Iron Maiden hasn’t already done it.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the parlor practising the power chord on a cheap acoustic guitar.

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Book Report: Friendly Fireside Poems by Lloyd Carleton Shank (1957)

Book coverThis book is a nice collection of poems from the middle part of the last century. The author has a pretty good sense of rhythm, the poems have end rhymes, and they’re nice short bits of Americana with an especial Christian sensibility. They cover things like the seasons, special events like Inauguration Day (Eisenhower, probably), and holidays. They’re about being neighborly and looking to God. The kind of thing that got published in newspapers in a bygone era, but never made it to the slicks or the anthologies.

They’re better than some of the chapbooks I read, but unfortunately, they suffer in comparison to the better of Edgar Allan Poe’s work which I read concurrently. The Poe poems are fun to say aloud, whereas these are just words.

So it’s okay if you’re going deep into the poet bench, but there’s a lot of better poetry out there. On the other hand, the poems are nice and short, and I’m learning just how much aversion I have to long poems.

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Book Report: Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems edited by Dorothy Price (1967)

Book coverThis book was published by Hallmark back in the day when your grandmother or great grandmother might pick up a little light book of poetry as a gift for someone and maybe take a little try at verse herself even though she left school in the eighth grade to take care of her younger siblings. And her poems were better than the stuff written by kids in the English program in college because sixth graders back then were better read than contemporary college-educated folk. But I digress.

The book is, as you might expect, a slim collection of haiku poems. They’re translated from the Japanese, so the actual 5-7-5 syllable count is off on many of them.

But they’re in the proper haiku style, where they provide an Eastern koan sort of thought designed to spur your musing or to trip your own experience with what they’re discussing instead of creating an experience for you.

However, it’s not best to sit down and read them all at once, as they’ll seem very repetitive if you do.

On the plus side, I can now say I prefer the haiku of Bosun to Basho, which will be nice and will impress anyone who earnestly asks.

Are there any haiku in the book of poetry I keep talking about publishing? Yes. And I’ll have to remember to add this one.

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Book Report: Five Themes of Today by Changde Chen (2001)

Book coverThis book is an interesting proposition: It is a number of philosophical arguments presented as poems, as lyrics. Although they do not contain imagery and particularly clever turns of phrase that makes for good poetry, the line-broken and metered presentation makes for easy reading of a philosophical argument.

The main piece within the book, “On the End of Technological Civilization”, presents a mathematical argument that technology is destined to fall because, basically, in a long enough timeline, all possibilities will come true, including the fall of the civilization. I don’t buy it because every moment brings new possibilities that did not exist the moment before, so the finite infinity projected might not apply to history as it does to mathematics.

The other ‘themes’ are longer musings on the logic of love and marriage, reason and religion, the war between equality and liberty, and the dead weight of democracy. They’re followed by some shorter little riffs on more topical subjects. I found all of them engaging, but although I did not agree with much, I did enjoy the presentation of the arguments. I would have expected the bits, particularly the one on reason and religion, to be a little more informed by the Chinese perspective, but it focused on Western religion instead of the Chinese beliefs, for example.

An interesting bit about this particular volume.

This appears to be a copy inscribed by Chen to his Oxford colleague, poet Bernard O’Donoghue. The sticker indicates it was a charitable donation at some time, and fifteen or so years later it ended up in Springfield, Missouri. Man, I feel for Chen here: A personal gift of his book with an inscription put in the Goodwill pile. I remember when I saw a copy of John Donnelly’s Gold listed on Amazon by a used bookstore in Indianapolis, and I knew which copy I’d mailed off that got there. I feel you, brother.

At any rate, like I said, a good intellectual read and an interesting presentation and easily digestible presentation of the material. It led me to wonder if I could make a philosophy book completely out of bullet points or ordered lists for modern audiences to understand. Perhaps someday.

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Book Report: Living a Mother’s World by Mary Jane Rerucha (1976)

Book coverThis book is a small, self-published collection of poetry by a Midwestern farm wife circa 1976. It’s on some very nice paper stock, so it probably cost a pile to print. The woman was committed.

It is broken into three sections: poems about family and motherhood, poems about landscape and the natural world, and poems about other things, like church. The poems are decent; some are rote sorts of poems like you get when someone sits down and thinks, “I should write a poem about x.” The poem celebrating the flag is like that. Others have good sense of rhythm and good rhyme schemes. The poems I enjoyed most were in the first section, poignant thoughts about growing children and looking back at them. I’ve decided I feel the same way about poems as I do about paintings: I prefer to have people in them and don’t really enjoy landscapes unless there are human figures in them. Which might be why I have so much Wordsworth around but haven’t read much of it.

As I read this, I thought about the number of magazines that I take that still publish poems. Since I did not renew National Review (too expensive), I’m down to Chronicles and First Things. The poems I see in them don’t touch me, generally, any more or less than the poems in these collections I read by unknowns.At any rate, a good collection of poems by a normal person. One or two of them might have been worth tearing from the paper or a magazine and putting on your refrigerator or cubicle wall. Which is about the best you can expect of any poet, really.

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So I Wrote A Poem….

In the middle of September, Instapundit linked to a call for submissions on Jerry Pournelle’s blog:

Accepting submissions for a new volume of the There Will Be War series. Send with cover note to Stories should preferably be 20,000 words or less. Poetry encouraged, but see the previous series; it needs to make sense. Hard science fiction mainly; urban fantasy with a military theme possibly acceptable, but mostly we want hard, realistic stories. They need not be action adventure; good command decision stories encouraged. Space opera always considered. Again see the previous nine volumes.

I was struck pretty instantly with an idea: update Rudyard Kipling’s “Tommy” by re-writing it from the perspective of a cloned cyrogenically preserved mercenary called a Canny. Okay, the name came first and the conceit almost instantly thereafter.

Man, the idea came fast, and I wanted to do it, but I was a haunted man this summer. Timing on various and sundry life activities left me little time to complete projects that I wanted to do. I’d started painting the interior of the house, but didn’t finish, leaving a room half painted; I’d meant to refinish my deck, but I’d only done the inside of the deck, where I could see it on the deck; I have a couple of items on the to-write list that I could certainly place if only I sat still long enough to write them; and so on. I wasn’t finishing anything I started. I was almost paralyzed with self-doubt regarding this idea for a poem.

I mean, in the old coffee shop days, I filled legal pads with sonnets and poems, easily scratching something out in an hour if I wanted to or felt inspired. But lately, writing something is harder than pulling middle-aged teeth as the infrequency of this blog attests. Somehow, a gap emerged between the inspiration/idea and the effort to carry it through.

I did a little research to procrastinate: I ordered one of the earlier volumes of the series to see what kind of poetry it contained. It had Kipling. I thought I was in like Dave in an emergency airlock in 2001. I mean, if I wrote a poem and it turned out any good.

So in spite of my recognition of my recent non-successes, I was determined, and I discovered a gap between determination and doing something. Probably the same gap between inspiration and doing something: laziness or disbelief in an effort resulting in the desired result. Still, I started carving out a half hour every morning. I’d drop my children at school and duck into the local coffee shop to work. I fully expected nothing more to come of it than coffee drinking. Did I mention paralysis in self-doubt? It wasn’t so much paralysis as actively working against myself.

I started out with a laptop so I could do a side-by-side comparison of “Tommy” and what I was putting down, but I quickly switched to a printed copy of “Tommy” and a legal pad. I was dismayed to find out the poem was in iambic heptameter; to someone seasoned in sonnets and iambic pentameter, that seemed a little syllablely, but over the course of four weeks, I managed to eke something out.

And then when all the lines and syllables were filled, I reached the next Hamlet moment: How much do I tweak it? Should I share it with science-fiction savvy Internet connections to see if it works? It was Hamlet and J. Alfred Prufrock time. Could my darker side dither long enough for the submission period to close while I was tweaking and transposing stresses?

Finally, one Saturday morning, I just emailed it in a moment of “What’s the worst that could happen?” By Saturday night, it was accepted.

Today, There Will Be War Volume X was released in a Kindle version.

I understand there is to be a hardcover version next year.

I wondered if the editors would recognize the source material; I expected Dr. Pournelle would, but I didn’t know if he was on the selection committee. Apparently, the source was recognized, as it is included in the introduction to the piece.

At any rate, how about that? Maybe there’s some hope for me as a writer yet if I just put my back into it.

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Book Report: Wisdom in Rhyme by Nora O. Scott (1980?)

Book coverYou know, there was a time when I might have made fun of a collection of poetry like that contained in this book. Probably a time when I was younger and more cocksure, a bit arrogant, and impatient with the mediocre in life. I was destined for greatness, and anything less than greatness was worth mocking. That’s what youth does, and growing older gives us a little better perspective on life and the pursuit of greatness.

So I’m not going to mock this book. The poems within it are not bad poems. I’ve read bad poems. These are merely common. They have end rhymes and a decent sense of rhythm. The subjects are domestic and landscapish and Christian, with a couple of little ditties about people she knows thrown in. She’s got a couple little poems about her children growing up or having grown up from being little babies. She writes about the landscape of Arkansas, her native state. It’s the sort of thing you see a lot of in small writing groups and clubs.

The poems span a number of decades; the book was prepared and maybe published by the pastor of her church ahead of her 92nd birthday in 1980. This volume was inscribed as a gift in 1984. So that’s what it’s circa. But it represents a woman of the ninteenth century, probably with limited schooling, writing poems for most of her life and not doing badly at it. So I’m going to appreciate that for what it is. She was reaching higher and giving it her effort, and her goals might not have been more lofty than having something to show her friends and family. And here it is.

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Lost in the Noise

I’m a little behind in reading my National Review magazines, and I’m just now getting into the February 23 issue. The magazine mentions the passing of Rod McKuen. The New York Times obit is here.

Strangely, I didn’t see anything on blogs, social media, or in the news in January. Unlike the death of Roscoe P. Coltrane, of which I heard all day yesterday.

I’ve read a lot of McKuen over the last ten years (see), and I’ve not always enjoyed the poetry or the record albums, but I’m saddened that he’s no longer part of this world.

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Book Report: Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire translated by Jacques LeClercq (1958)

Book coverInterspersed among my other reading, I’ve been working on this book for a little bit. It’s a collection of poems by Charles Baudelaire, but they’re end-rhymed, so the translator had a heavy hand in the actual English of the poems which probably means they’re almost as much his work as Baudelaire’s. Because poems have so much nuance, rhythm, and flow that rely on word selection, you have two choices when translating: You can go with the literal translation, which will chop most of the mouthfeel of the original poem out, or you can try to put the poem in the target language with as much of the flavor of the original as possible but still ending up with something of the original in it. I think this translation, as demonstrated by the end lines, did more of the latter.

Now, about the poems: Oh, my.

On one hand, these are the poems I wanted to write when I was twenty years old. Vivid, evocative, concrete, and meaningful (and full of end rhymes). You’re in the moment with the poet narrator in a way that overshadows a lot of poetry in English that I’ve read. The topics are full of love, lust, and pondering mortality.


The introduction explains a bit of Baudelaire’s bio and explains his obsession with a particular woman, and it comes through in the poems as the poet-narrator fixates on a woman and the poems describe a love/lust/hate relationship with a woman. And the poet-narrator muses on death and the ultimate meaninglessness of love when confronted by death. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

And vivid in a sometimes squicky way. There’s a poem called “Carrion” which is about the poet-narrator and his love out for a walk when they come across a dead animal, and the poet-narrator describes it in great detail as it breaks down and then says something about the breakdown of the flesh and how the woman will be food for worms soon. And then there’s a poem about necrophilia. But only one.


It’s good poetry qua, but some of the topic matter is a bit objectionable.

This book features an inscription, To Michael, with love and a Merry Christmas, Ellen 1966. Frankly, I’m not sure what sort of message you’re sending if you’re giving this book to a lover. Also, Phil offers to read Baudelaire to Rita in the film Groundhog Day; suddenly, this changes the meaning of the film for me forever.

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Book Report: Limericks by Edward Lear &c (1980)

Book coverThis book is just what it says: A collection of limericks, the five line poem type.

The book contains 212 limericks by Edward Lear, the English writer who popularized the form. His limericks are a bit of nonsence, and the fifth line pretty much just restates the first line without the clever twist that later limericks employed. So we get things like this:

There was a Young Person in Pink,
Who called out for something to drink;
But they said, “O my daughter,
There’s nothing but water!”
Which vexed that Young Person in Pink.


There was an Old Person of Fife,
Who was greatly disgusted with life;
They sang him a ballad,
And fed him on salad,
Which cured that old Person of Fife.

After the main course of Lear, we get 28 limericks from Punch magazine and then 20 other limericks. These last 48 are in the contemporary form with a little more punchline to the last line, but none of them stuck with me or inspired me to memorize them and tell them to others.

I’m not really consumed with the urge to try out the form, either.

So skip this book unless you’re a real scholar on poetry forms or want something to browse through during football games and don’t mind re-reading the same limerick a couple of times because you’d forgotten you’d read it before third down.

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Book Report: As Autumn Approaches by Ronald E. Piggee (1993)

Book coverThis book is a chapbook written by a Vietnam veteran, a black father in Nebraska in 1993. The poetry within ranges through a bunch of different styles, including free verse and at least one villanelle. It’s better than a lot of chapbooks I’ve read.

The book led me to some personal musings, though. In 1993, my father was two years away from dying from cancer; he was a Vietnam-era veteran who served in Okinawa instead of Vietnam (and I think he felt a little guilty about it). It’s hard for me to imagine him writing poetry, but that was not his way. He was a hands guy: his creative hobby of the time period was building elaborate ship models that required him to tie nautical knots in thread using a magnifying glass and tweezers.

Crazy that a book of poems about growing older would make me think about my father, how he didn’t grow older, and how I will not long be older than he ever was. Or maybe not so crazy, since that’s what poetry does. So consider that an endorsement of this book: It was definitely evocative.

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Book Report: Poems of Creatures Large and Small edited by Gail Harvey (1991)

Book coverThis book is not the first in this series of grouped short poetry anthologies I’ve read; in 2007, I read Poems of Flowers and Poems of Friendship shortly after finding them at an Old Trees estate sale. I picked up the current volume at a thrift store about a week ago. I like these slim little anthologies that I read them quickly.

As with the other volumes, this slim (65) page volume collects mostly public domain poems on a theme. This time, it’s animals, so all of the poems are about animals (Tiger, tiger, burning bright? It’s in there.). As always, the poems vary in style and, honestly, quality, but it does offer a bit of a buffet approach to a number of styles and poets from Whitman to Wordsworth to a lot of Bret Harte.

I know, I know, Don’t you have an English degree? Shouldn’t you be reading Real Volumes of Poetry? Oh, but no. I’m currently into my third decade of trying to read the complete works of Emily Dickinson, friends, and I’m here to tell you that poetry is supposed to delight and entertain. It’s supposed to be deep pop music. Pleasing to the ear and conveying deep meaning. Like so much art, it got corrupted by critics and poetasters so that too much of it is either too ponderous to be appreciated by normal people or just twee without any deeper resonance. Give me a K-Tel collection of poems like this any day over the complete works of Wallace Stevens.

I liked this collection so much that I’m considering looking into how many Gail Harvey edited in this series and seeking out the others. Fortunately, the intersection of my laziness and otherwise busy day will intercede and prevent me from adding any more to my sagging shelves other than the upcoming autumn book sales and occasional trip to the thrift store.

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I Admit It: My Lips Move When I Read…


Because I want to feel the words and the rhythms in my mouth. To hear them in my voice.

I recognized this whilst I was sitting in the dojo whilst my child took his martial arts class. I was sitting there, moving my lips, and grateful when I could snag my younger child, seat him on my lap, and read a couple poems out loud to him before he wriggled off to find a child with a mobile phone to watch.

You really can’t experience poetry by reading it in your head. Not good poetry, anyway.

Also, notice the double-whilst sentence above. I’m pretty sure in the Hoyle’s Rules of Writing, a double-whilst is a trick worth many points.

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Book Report: Patchwork in Poetry and Verse by Dona Maddux Cooper (1981)
Down Home Doggerel by Miz Parsons (1996)

Book covers

I bought these books, along with a couple aged literary magazines, at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale this autumn and I read them pretty quickly during football games and whatnot. After all, they’re short little chapbooks in the vernacular.

In the olden days, back when I was doing poetry at open mic nights and fresh out of college steeped in the classics and, as you would expect, the snobbishness of loving the classics and lambasting modern poetry (not just poetry in the vernacular, but tenured modern poets as well), I was a bit unforgiving in my contempt of lesser poems.

Now, I’m twenty (almost) years older than that. I’ve read more poetry, including continuing attempts to read the (as of the book’s publishing) Complete Works of Emily Dickinson. I realize that most of the poetry that is out there is not the best poetry out there, even from the classic artists. Some poems really capture something and speak to you, and some do not. And the sum of the some varies from person to person.

Is that a disclaimer, leading to the pronouncement that these poems are not good? Well, sort of, but these poems are not bad. Amidst my readings of friends’ work (sorry, Doug) and after my editorship of a fledgling literary journal in the mid-Clinton era, I’ve read some bad poetry. These are not bad poetry.

Patchwork of Poetry and Verse is the better of the two volumes. There are a lot of good moments in them. I’m not driven to own or memorize any of the poems, but I recognized and appreciated some of the sentiments within and turns of phrase spoke to me. Down Home Doggerel is more observational and does not take itself seriously–note the title itself calls it doggerel. But it’s a woman of some years expressing herself and her world around her in verse. Good for her.

I mean, twenty years from now, are you even going to be tempted to read a Twitter stream from 2013? I think not. But twenty- and thirty-year-old chapbooks? I’m all on that. They took not only the drive to put their thoughts to paper, but the drive to lay them out (in the days before Microsoft Publisher or with a crude version of Pagemaker), and the drive to spend one’s own money on publishing them. Take it from someone whose chapbooks are twenty years old these days. So I respect it, and I can enjoy it.

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Book Report: Never Ending Dawn by V.R. Williams (2001)

Book cover This is a small chapbook of religious-themed poetry. I’d assumed that the poet was a resident of Springfield, Missouri, since the publishing house is here in town, but I could be mistaken. The About the Author on the back indicates that the poet was originally from Tobago and was a school teacher in NYC. Searching briefly on her name on the Internet yields a lot of small businesses run by V.R. Williams. Trying the publishing house, Gilead Publishing, in the old search engine yields a number of results publishing religious-themed books much like this one. So I have no idea about the source of this particular book. You can’t buy it on Amazon. So I might have a real collectors’ item here.

As I said, it’s a chapbook collection of religious poems dealing with the poet’s relationship with God and whatnot. Some poems venture into eulogies for people the poet knew. But it’s that sort of thing.

Is it any good? Well….

It’s not bad in a revulsion sort of way. The poems are not free verse and have end rhymes, so the author put some thought into them. The grammar is good, unlike some poems personal friends of mine have written. But there’s nothing particularly evocative or memorable in the book.

I can’t help but contrast the collection with that of James Kavanaugh, the self-defrocked priest whose collection I read in November. His was a late 1970s collection of the period zeitgeist for free-wheelin’ poets in turtlenecks and with hardback contracts didn’t even bother to end-rhyme, and his words pretty much washed over me like water, too.


You know what? Ms. Williams and Mr. Kavanaugh both took the time and effort to put their thoughts, different as they were, into some sort of structure and to share them with others. Good on ’em. If it doesn’t work out that they’re immortal, so be it.

I must be in the Christmas spirit or something to not be snarking all over them both, but there you go.

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Book Report: Winter Has Lasted Too Long by James Kavanaugh (1977)

Book cover Given the tone and type of look of this book, one can’t help but think of Rod McKuen. In tone, both are about aging poets in love with their own poetry and their role as poets, both talk about relationships coming and going and the heady starts of them and the different ways the relationships end, many of them with disappointment.

But, interestingly, Kavanaugh has a different background than McKuen: He was a priest who wrote a 1967 book about how the Church should change in all the ways that they say now that the Republican Party should change. In a speech at Notre Dame, he tore off his clerical collar and stomped on it and became, ten years later, the poet that he is in this book. His interest in marriage didn’t end with one wife, apparently, and one assumes he had other women between them. (According to his bio at the James Kavanaugh Institute.)

At any rate, the tone of the poems, as I said, are of an aging man in the middle of his life, dealing with the knowledge that he’s no longer young but not yet old. The poems have moments where they connect with men of a certain age (and had an audience in the middle 1970s, where the sweaters and the poetry books were an outward sign of coolness even in early middle age), but (as my beautiful wife pointed out), they aren’t very poetic. The verses do not contain a lot of evocative imagery drawing out the theme and conclusions. It’s philosophical musings with line breaks.

So there you go: It’s like McKuenesque poetry with a more dramatic poet backstory. There might be something in it for you, but the moments are just moments amid a whole book of sometimes repetitive sentiments. Which is what you get with any book of work by any single poet, even Edna St. Vincent Millay or Robert Frost.

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Book Report: Poems by Julia E. Maclay (~1960)

Book coverThis book is a collection of poems by a religious housewife written in 1959 and 1960 in the Ozarks. It’s a regional book with probably no national distribution, but the woman (or her family) thought enough of them to publish them in hardback. The book includes some penciled or penned corrections and some poems cut and pasted onto blank pages at the end. It’s signed by the author, of course, but not inscribed, which means she might have given the book to someone she didn’t know. How odd.

At any rate, the poems are of the quality you might expect. Maclay had a good sense of rhythm, but she forced twee end rhymes where another poet would have been more subtle.

Still, I admire the chutzpah involved in self-publishing a hardback collection of one’s poems. In 1960 or 1961, no less. So I’m not sorry I read the book.

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Book Report: Thoughts in Verse by Bernice Marie Cockrell-Petrie (1989)

Book coverThis is a chapbook from a little old lady who wrote poems about her home, her friends, and her family in the 1970s and 1980s. Its pages are typewritten (and, in some places, corrected with correction fluid and hand printing), and it’s bound by a comb binder, probably something provided by Kinko’s or the like (my chapbooks from five and six years later were saddle-stapled, which is a more professional look, I think, but this book might have been to thick for that treatment).

So I could have gone into the book with a sense of literary superiority (I’m concurrently reading Kipling’s poetry and some more by Ogden Nash), but somehow I developed a little affection for the book as I read it.

Her prolific period comes in the early 1970s, and as each poem is dated, one can read the poems she was writing up to the date of one’s own birth (if one is about forty years old) and through historical periods of one’s life. So it has that effect on one like me.

The topics of the poems are her friends and family, as I mentioned, so at times it’s like flipping through someone else’s photo album.

Other poems deal with her home, animals around them, herself, and her relationship to God. It’s pretty lightweight stuff, except it was meaningful enough to her to put to verse.

And the poems aren’t very good, but they’re not especially bad either. She has a fair sense of rhythm, relying on iambs a bunch, and she end rhymes. So she put some thought into them, unlike a lot of free versers who just blat out anything and think it’s profound.

So I enjoyed the book for what it was: an amateur writing what she thought. The copy I have is a second edition, which could very well mean there were more copies of it in the wild in 1990 than there are copies of John Donnelly’s Gold out there. Fancy that.

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Book Report: Great Sonnets edited by Paul Negri (1994)

This is a Dover thrift edition that collects a pile of sonnets that had fallen into the public domain. It collects them from a large number of authors, chiefly British and American, and includes a lot of favorites from Shakespeare, Millay, Whittier, Tennyson, Poe, Swinburne, and so on. It’s like a good sampler album of music. You find some you know and like, you find some you don’t think much of, but you also find a couple you like a whole lot and plan to look up more from the author.

This is the latest in the volumes of poetry that I’ve read aloud to my children as they’ve played so they can hear some cool words, and the older boy at four is starting to understand some of the narratives. This means it’s back to Ogden Nash since sonnets sometimes tend toward the That’s what Mommies and Daddies do.

At any rate, a good book. Worth the couple pennies it would cost you.

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